Thursday, February 20, 2014

Aurora Theater Shooting: First Evaluation Almost Certainly Finds Suspect Insane

Yesterday, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour ordered a new sanity evaluation for the Aurora theater shooter. In a lengthy (and heavily redacted) ruling, Judge Samour found that the suspect's initial sanity evaluation was inadequate. The judge also refused to appoint one of the prosecution's experts as the new evaluator. Rather, the judge ordered the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (one of Colorado's two state mental health hospitals) to appoint a new, independent evaluator. The Institute has until March 10, 2014 to appoint the evaluator, and the new evaluation report is due to the court in July of 2014.

Although the publicly available motions and rulings are redacted, leaving out important information about the contents of the original evaluation, there are clues in them that lead me to an important deduction, of which I am also completely certain: The first sanity evaluator's opinion was that the shooting suspect was insane at the time of the alleged events.

Here is video of 9News reporting on this opinion:

Click here if the video does not appear above.

For those who are not familiar with the intricacies of the legal motions and rulings, this may seem like little more than a guess, so let me walk you through my thinking (note: this process was a joint venture-- two excellent investigative reporters from 9 News, Jeremy Jojola and Chris Vanderveen, and the 9 News Legal Analyst, Scott Robinson, all worked on this for months and came to the same educated conclusion).

Here are the steps in my logical process:

1. Late last year, prosecutors objected to the 128-page sanity evaluation, produced by the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP--pronounced Sim-Hip).

2. In motions to the court that were filed at the time of the objection, prosecutors argued there were three main conclusions in the evaluation, and they only objected to one of the conclusions.

3. At the time, we had some guesses as to the three conclusions addressed in the report, but we were not certain. We knew for sure that one of them was Sanity. I strongly suspected that another one was Competency To Proceed, as it is standard practice for CMHIP to include a competency evaluation in a sanity report. The third was a bit of a mystery and could have involved one of several issues.

4. In yesterday's ruling, Judge Samour referred to the three conclusions from above. He confirmed that two of them were Sanity and Competency To Proceed. He wrote that the third evaluation conclusion had to do with Competency To Be Executed.

5. In his ruling, Judge Samour agreed with the prosecution that the evaluation was incomplete. He ordered a new evaluation, which should focus solely on Sanity. Competency, and Competency To Be Executed are to be excluded from the next CMHIP evaluation.

At this point, remember that the prosecution only objected to one of the conclusory opinions in the original evaluation, and the judge agreed and ordered a new sanity evaluation. That leads me to believe the prosecution did not agree with the opinion of the sanity evaluator on that one point.

The prosecution's goal in this case is to convict the shooting suspect of dozens of counts of first-degree murder and secure the death penalty. If a jury finds him legally insane, he cannot be held criminally responsible for his actions.

Logically then, there is one obvious reason why prosecutors would object to the sanity evaluator's findings--if those findings were that the shooter was insane at the time of the alleged events. If the evaluator's conclusion was that the shooter was sane, there is no clear legal rationale for the prosecution to object to it.

So, that is the thinking. Even with much of the judge's reasoning for his decision redacted, there are enough clues to piece this opinion together. There is always a chance I am wrong--it could be that the original report states the shooter was sane. But, that makes very little sense in my mind. Rather, I am almost completely certain the original evaluation states that the Aurora theater shooting suspect was legally insane at the time of the shooting.

If you see any holes in my logic, I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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